How Long Can We Afford to Botch Afghanistan?

There's no consensus, no clear strategy. Where will we end up?

Two stories in today’s Wall Street Journal -- placed, cosmically enough, right next to each other on the newspaper’s page -- illustrate many of the problems present in our current Afghanistan policy.

The first piece, "Al Qaeda’s Diminished Role Stirs Afghan Troop Debate," is an examination of the U.S.’s shifting policy priorities in the region. With al Qaeda’s presence dwindling, the costs and political implications of waging war against the Taliban have become quite prickly: Could Obama justify an essential ‘Eurasia/Eastasia’-type switch in campaign goals? If he decides to pull out, would it ripen Afghanistan for an al Qaeda takeover? There’s little consensus on these questions, according to the WSJ piece.

Nor does there seem to be a definitive game plan bouncing around the mind of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Indeed, just a week or so after asking President Obama for 40,000 additional troops, McChrystal seemed to indicate an all-out reluctance (as far as ‘all-out’ anything goes with McChrystal) to take on the Taliban:

Foreign militants serve as a battlefield "accellerant," said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, in an interview. "When a foreign fighter comes into Afghanistan, he doesn't have anything else he's going to do -- he's going to fight until he dies or goes somewhere else," he said. By contrast, "an Afghan is fighting for something, and if he starts to get that, his motivation changes."

Confused yet? Add the words of James L. Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, to the equation, and the soup gets even thicker. In an interview on CBS Sunday, Jones said that McChrystal’s troop recommendation is only "his opinion" of "what he thinks his role within that strategy is."

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